Text from The New Yorker, by Patrick Radden Keefe.
"In legal disputes, Koch has occasionally relied on the services of a tenacious retired F.B.I. agent named Jim Elroy. During his law-enforcement career, Elroy worked on many fraud investigations, and when questions about the Jefferson bottles arose he told Koch, “If you want your money back, I’ll get it.”
That wasn’t enough for Koch. “I want to lock him up,” he told Elroy. “Saddle up.” (Koch’s enthusiasm for cowboy culture has rubbed off on Elroy. He describes his boss as “the new sheriff in town”; his cell-phone ring tone is the whistled theme from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”)
Elroy is in his sixties and has a weathered, tanned face and a conspiratorial smile. He’s a bit of a raconteur, and when we met for lunch recently he related the details of his investigation in the studied cadences of someone who had told the story before. “Cases either get better or they get worse,” he told me. “This one just kept getting better.” From the beginning, Koch was interested in suing Rodenstock, Elroy explained, but he also wanted Elroy to prepare a criminal case against him which could ultimately be handed to federal authorities. Elroy was invigorated by Koch’s ambitions. “This investigation has all the earmarks of an F.B.I. investigation,” he told me. “Only with the best people in the world available instantly. And with none of the bureaucracy.” He estimated that since 2005 Koch has spent more than a million dollars on the Rodenstock case—twice what he paid for the wine.
As Elroy and his team—a former Scotland Yard inspector in England, a former MI5 agent in Germany, and several wine experts in Europe and the United States—began their investigation, in 2005, they learned from the staff at Monticello that doubts about the authenticity of the Jefferson wines date back to the auction of the original bottle. Broadbent had approached Monticello in the fall of 1985, to inquire about references to wine in some of Jefferson’s letters. A researcher named Cinder Goodwin, who had spent fifteen years studying Jefferson’s voluminous papers, responded to Broadbent that November, expressing skepticism. “Jefferson’s daily account book, virtually all of his letters, his banker’s statements, and miscellaneous internal French customs forms survive for this period and mention no 1787 vintages,” she wrote. When a reporter from the Times reached Goodwin, before the auction, to ask about the connection, she noted that whereas the initials on Rodenstock’s bottles were written “Th.J.,” in his correspondence Jefferson tended to use a colon—“Th:J.”
Broadbent did not mention these doubts in the catalogue, and the Times story did not dissuade the bidders. (In an article published in this magazine at the time, Broadbent told a reporter that he found “no proof” but plenty of circumstantial evidence—“masses of it”—that Jefferson had owned the bottle.) Shortly after the auction, Goodwin prepared a research report on the bottles, in which she concluded that although they could very well be authentically eighteenth century, the specific connection with Jefferson was not borne out by the historical record. She was at pains to insist that she was not questioning the good faith of Rodenstock or Broadbent, but she wondered, “Were there not Thomases, Theodores, or Theophiles, and Jacksons, Joneses, and Juliens who also had a taste for fine Bordeaux wine, and who would have been resident in Paris?” She pointed out that historical records document the inhabitants at various addresses in Paris. If Rodenstock would reveal the address where he discovered the wine, “a proper connection might be made.”
Soon a flurry of letters from Rodenstock began arriving at Monticello. Though he speaks passable English, the letters were in German; a Monticello tour guide translated them. On December 28, 1985, Rodenstock wrote, referring to Goodwin, that “one should courteously keep back one’s dubious and unfounded remarks and one shouldn’t make oneself important in front of the press.” Dan Jordan, Monticello’s executive director, wrote back, protesting that Goodwin was a highly regarded Jefferson scholar, and that, unlike Rodenstock or Christie’s, she had no financial interest in the determination of authenticity.
“Can you study ‘Jefferson’ at university?” Rodenstock replied. “She doesn’t know anything about wine in connection with Jefferson, doesn’t know what bottles from the time frame 1780-1800 look like, doesn’t know how they taste.”
The nose is a typical Meursault with notes of pear, citrus and peach. At first, the minerality dominates with a silex-like style, giving way to a beautiful round structure with well integrated oak flavours of vanilla and butter. Even though this wine might have sweetness in its mid palate and finish, it remains "lifted" in the mouth and makes you want to drink more.
A very good example of Vincent Girardin's ever consistent white wines.
Text from The New Yorker, by Patrick Radden Keefe.
"Since much of the fine-wine business is conducted in off-the-books “gray market” exchanges between buyers and resellers with no direct link to the château, ascertaining who actually put a particular bottle of wine into circulation can be difficult. But Koch sent emissaries to the Chicago Wine Company and to Farr Vintners, and learned that all four bottles originally came from the person who had supplied the bottle auctioned at Christie’s, a flamboyant German wine collector named Hardy Rodenstock.
Rodenstock was a former music publisher who managed German pop acts in the seventies. He maintained residences in Munich, Bordeaux, and Monte Carlo, and was rumored to be part of the wealthy Rodenstock family, which manufactured high-end eyeglasses. He told people that he had started out as a professor, and intimated that he had made a fortune on the stock market.
Rodenstock became interested in wine in the seventies, and developed a passion for the sweet white wine of Château d’Yquem. He especially loved wines that predated the phylloxera epidemic of the late nineteenth century, when a grape-vine pest decimated Europe’s vineyards, forcing growers to replant with phylloxera-resistant rootstocks from North America. “In the pre-phylloxera wines of Yquem, you find more flavors, more caramel, more singularity, more power, more class,” he once told an interviewer. He boasted to Wine Spectator that he had tasted more vintages of old Yquem than the owner of the château had—and the château owner agreed.
Starting in 1980, Rodenstock began holding lavish annual wine tastings, weekend-long affairs attended by wine critics, retailers, and various German dignitaries and celebrities. He opened scores of old and rare wines, all provided at his own expense, and served in custom-made “Rodenstock” glasses that were supplied by his friend the glassmaker Georg Riedel. Impeccably dressed, wearing stylish Rodenstock eyeglasses and shirts with stiff white collars, he bantered with guests, exclaiming, over an especially fine bottle, “Ja, unglaublich! One hundred points!” He was punctilious about being on time, barring latecomers, and when serving older wines he banned spitting, which prompted some guests, alarmed at the number of bottles they would be sampling, to hide spittoons in their laps. “You don’t spit away history,” Rodenstock admonished them. “You drink it.”
Rodenstock made no secret of having discovered the Jefferson bottles; on the contrary, the record sale to Forbes had made him a celebrity in the wine world. In the spring of 1985, he would later explain, he received a phone call about an interesting discovery in Paris, where someone had stumbled upon some dusty old bottles, each inscribed with the letters “Th.J.” Rodenstock refused to reveal who had sold him the bottles, but apparently the seller did not realize the significance of the initials. “It was like the lottery,” Rodenstock said of the experience. “It was simply good luck.” He would not say how many bottles there were—in some accounts, it was “a dozen or so,” in others, as many as thirty. Nor would he disclose the address in Paris where they were discovered.
The Jefferson bottles were the first in a series of astonishing finds. Rodenstock became known as an intrepid hunter of the rarest wines. One collector, who was a friend of Rodenstock in the nineteen-eighties and nineties, told me that in 1989 he had arranged a horizontal tasting of bottles of 1929 wines from many different châteaux. The one bottle he had been unable to find was a 1929 Château Ausone. Several days before the tasting, he received a telephone call from Rodenstock. “I’m in Scotland,” Rodenstock announced. “I found a bottle of Ausone ’29!” Rodenstock travelled to Venezuela, where, according to press reports, he found a hundred cases of Bordeaux; in Russia, he uncovered “the tsar’s lost cache” of nineteenth-century wine. At Munich’s Hotel Königshof in 1998, he held a vertical tasting of a hundred and twenty-five years’ worth of Yquem, including two bottles from the Jefferson collection. “Amazingly, they didn’t taste over the hill or oxidized,” Wine Spectator’s correspondent remarked. “The 1784 tasted as if it were decades younger.”
Some members of the wine press avoided the events. The critic Robert Parker attended only one tasting; he told me that the extravagance of the affairs kept him away. Rating the selections would be of little use to most of his readers, he said, because they could hardly find, much less afford, such wines. And the policy against spitting, combined with Rodenstock’s tendency to withhold the most exciting offerings until the end of a tasting, could seriously impair any objective assessment of the wine. “He always seemed to serve the great stuff after you were primed pretty good,” Parker said of the one event he did attend, a 1995 tasting in Munich. “People were getting shitfaced.”
Even so, Parker was amazed at some of Rodenstock’s wines. “Out of this universe!” he wrote of a large-format magnum of Pétrus from 1921 that Rodenstock served. “This huge, unbelievably concentrated wine could have been mistaken for the 1950 or 1947.” In his journal, The Wine Advocate, Parker deemed the three-day tasting “the wine event of my lifetime.” “I quickly learned,” he wrote, “that when Hardy Rodenstock referred to a ’59 or a ’47, I needed to verify whether he was talking about the nineteenth or the twentieth century!”
Michael Broadbent regularly attended Rodenstock events. In his book “Vintage Wine: Fifty Years of Tasting Three Centuries of Wines,” Broadbent acknowledges that it was through Rodenstock’s “immense generosity” that he was able to taste many of the rarest entries. Much of his section on eighteenth-century wines consists of notes from Rodenstock tastings.
Bill Koch was never invited to one of these tastings, but he had heard of Rodenstock, and the two had met on one occasion, in 2000, when Christie’s held a tasting of Latour in its offices in New York. According to Koch, Rodenstock arrived late, and Koch approached him. “Hi, I’m Bill Koch,” he said. “I bought some wine from you.”
Rodenstock shook Koch’s hand. He looked uncomfortable, Koch thought. “So you’re the famous collector,” Rodenstock said, before hastily walking away. "
Text from The New Yorker, by Patrick Radden Keefe.
"After the auction, other serious collectors sought out Jefferson bottles. The publisher of Wine Spectator bought a bottle through Christie’s. A mysterious Middle Eastern businessman bought another. And in late 1988 an American tycoon named Bill Koch purchased four bottles. The son of Fred Koch, who founded Koch Industries, he lived in Dover, Massachusetts, and ran his own highly profitable energy company, the Oxbow Corporation. Koch purchased a 1787 Branne Mouton from the Chicago Wine Company in November, 1988. The next month, he bought a 1784 Branne Mouton, a 1784 Lafitte, and a 1787 Lafitte from Farr Vintners, a British retailer. Altogether, Koch spent half a million dollars on the bottles. He installed them in his capacious, climate-controlled wine cellar, and took them out occasionally over the next fifteen years to show them off to friends.
Koch’s collection of art and antiques is valued at several hundred million dollars, and in 2005 the Boston Museum of Fine Arts prepared an exhibition of many of his possessions. Koch’s staff began tracking down the provenance of the four Jefferson bottles, and found that, apart from Broadbent’s authentication of the Forbes bottle, they had nothing on file. Seeking historical corroboration, they approached the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, at Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Several days later, Monticello’s curator, Susan Stein, telephoned. “We don’t believe those bottles ever belonged to Thomas Jefferson,” she said.
Koch (pronounced “coke”) lives with his third wife, Bridget Rooney, and six children, from this and previous marriages, in a thirty-five-thousand-square-foot Anglo-Caribbean-style house in Palm Beach. When I visited him there not long ago, the front lawn had been excavated to extend the house’s basement. Koch explained that he needs more storage space. “I’m a bit of a compulsive collector,” he said. We strolled past Modigliani’s 1917 “Reclining Nude” and Picasso’s blue-period “Night Club Singer,” a Renoir, a Rodin, and works by Degas, Chagall, Cézanne, Monet, Miró, Dali, Léger, and Botero. Surveillance cameras, encased in little bulbs of black glass, protruded from the ceiling.
“My father was a collector of sorts,” Koch said. “I guess I got it from him. He had a small collection of Impressionist art. He collected shotguns. Then he collected ranches.” We sat down in Koch’s “cowboy room,” surrounded by Charles Marion Russell paintings, Frederic Remington bronzes of men on horseback, antique cowboy hats, bowie knives, and dozens of guns, displayed in glass-topped cases: Jesse James’s gun, Jesse James’s killer’s gun, Sitting Bull’s pistol, General Custer’s rifle.
Koch, who is sixty-seven, is rangy and tall, with tousled white hair, round spectacles, and a boyish, high-pitched laugh. At M.I.T., where he received his undergraduate degree and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, he contracted hepatitis, and could no longer stomach hard alcohol. But he could drink wine. At restaurants, he ordered the most expensive wines on the list, and discovered some that he liked. Eventually, he began purchasing wine at auction: first-growth Bordeaux, like Lafite and Latour, and the famous Burgundies of Romanée-Conti. “When I went crazy is when I sold my stock in Koch Industries,” he said. That was 1983; he made a reported five hundred and fifty million dollars on the sale. At that point, he decided he would build a world-class wine collection. When I asked why, he looked at me as if I’d failed to grasp the obvious. “Because it’s the best-tasting form of alcohol in the world,” he said. “That’s why.”
Koch may be as compulsive about filing lawsuits as he is about collecting. He waged a twenty-year legal battle against two of his brothers relating to the family business. (The matter was settled in 2001.) He sued the state of Massachusetts over an improperly taxed stock transaction and won a forty-six-million-dollar abatement. When a former girlfriend whom he had installed at a condo in Boston’s Four Seasons hotel refused to leave, Koch took her to housing court and had her evicted. He talks about “dropping a subpoena” on people as if he were lobbing a grenade.
Fine-wine fraud was almost unheard of when Koch bought his four bottles of Th.J. Bordeaux, and the only assurance he demanded was that they came from the same collection that Broadbent had authenticated. He was angry to find out that Monticello believed his bottles were fake. “I’ve bought so much art, so many guns, so many other things, that if somebody’s out to cheat me I want the son of a bitch to pay for it,” he told me, his color rising. “Also,” he said, smiling, “it’s a fun detective story.”
The extraordinary inflation of rare-wine prices—of which the Jefferson bottles are the most conspicuous example—has led in recent years to an explosion of counterfeits in the wine trade. In 2000, Italian authorities confiscated twenty thousand bottles of phony Sassicaia, a sought-after Tuscan red; Chinese counterfeiters have begun peddling fake Lafite. So-called “trophy” wines—best-of-the-century vintages of old Bordeaux—that were difficult to find at auction in the nineteen-seventies and eighties have reëmerged on the market in great numbers. Serena Sutcliffe, the head of Sotheby’s international wine department, jokes that more 1945 Mouton was consumed on the fiftieth anniversary of the vintage, in 1995, than was ever produced to begin with. The problem is especially acute in the United States and Asia, Sutcliffe told me, where wealthy enthusiasts build large collections very quickly. “You can go into important cellars and see a million dollars’ worth of fakes among five or six million dollars’ worth of nice stuff,” she said."
to be continued...
Text from The New Yorker. by Patrick Radden Keefe
"The most expensive bottle of wine ever sold at auction was offered at Christie’s in London, on December 5, 1985. The bottle was handblown dark-green glass and capped with a nubby seal of thick black wax. It had no label, but etched into the glass in a spindly hand was the year 1787, the word “Lafitte,” and the letters “Th.J.”
The bottle came from a collection of wine that had reportedly been discovered behind a bricked-up cellar wall in an old building in Paris. The wines bore the names of top vineyards—along with Lafitte (which is now spelled “Lafite”), there were bottles from Châteaux d’Yquem, Mouton, and Margaux—and those initials, “Th.J.” According to the catalogue, evidence suggested that the wine had belonged to Thomas Jefferson, and that the bottle at auction could “rightly be considered one of the world’s greatest rarities.” The level of the wine was “exceptionally high” for such an old bottle—just half an inch below the cork—and the color “remarkably deep for its age.” The wine’s value was listed as “inestimable.”
Before auctioning the wine, Michael Broadbent, the head of Christie’s wine department, consulted with the auction house’s glass experts, who confirmed that both the bottle and the engraving were in the eighteenth-century French style. Jefferson had served as America’s Minister to France between 1785 and the outbreak of the French Revolution, and had developed a fascination with French wine. Upon his return to America, he continued to order large quantities of Bordeaux for himself and for George Washington, and stipulated in one 1790 letter that their respective shipments should be marked with their initials. During his first term as President, Jefferson spent seventy-five hundred dollars—roughly a hundred and twenty thousand dollars in today’s currency—on wine, and he is generally regarded as America’s first great wine connoisseur. (He may also have been America’s first great wine bore. “There was, as usual, a dissertation upon wines,” John Quincy Adams noted in his diary after dining with Jefferson in 1807. “Not very edifying.”)
In addition to surveying the relevant historical material, Broadbent had sampled two other bottles from the collection. Some nineteenth-century vintages still taste delicious, provided they have been properly stored. But eighteenth-century wine is extremely rare, and it was not clear whether the Th.J. bottles would hold up. Broadbent is a Master of Wine, a professional certification for wine writers, dealers, and sommeliers, which connotes extensive experience with fine wine, and discriminating judgment. He pronounced a 1784 Th.J. Yquem “perfect in every sense: colour, bouquet, taste.”
At two-thirty that December afternoon, Broadbent opened the bidding, at ten thousand pounds. Less than two minutes later, his gavel fell. The winning bidder was Christopher Forbes, the son of Malcolm Forbes and a vice-president of the magazine Forbes. The final price was a hundred and five thousand pounds—about a hundred and fifty-seven thousand dollars. “It’s more fun than the opera glasses Lincoln was holding when he was shot,” Forbes declared, adding, “And we have those, too.” "
Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 1998
At first, we notice very fine bubbles in a single line, which to me is a trademark from Billecart-Salmon. The foam is light and disappear slowly. On the nose, white flowers and lemon. The aromas are present but not overwhelming. This Champagne is all about subtlety. On the palate, it is an explosion of aromas, complex, but very well balance. Honey, more lemon and white flowers, with a well integrated minerality. The finish is lingering and quite long.
Another great example of this Grande Maison de Champagne that should drink well for many years.
But above all, Thomas Jefferson was a wine lover and a gourmet. A passion that he discovered during his stay in France and took with him back to the States. He would order for his own private cellar, many bottling from the best Chateaux in Bordeaux and wines from other regions of France and Europe. He had so much interest with wine, that he even tried planting Europeen vines in America but never produced any wine.
He made many famous comments about wine during his life and here are some fine examples:
"Good wine is a necessity of life for me." TJ
"I have lived temperately....I double the doctor's recommendation of a glass and a half of wine each day and even treble it with a friend." TJ"I think it is a great error to consider a heavy tax on wines as a tax on luxury. On the contrary, it is a tax on the health of our citizens. " TJ
"We could in the United States make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good." TJ
The evolution started relatively slow in the first 3 years of release, even though this wine was rated 100 points by Robert Parker Jr. and 100 points by wine spectator in 2003. Chateau Lafite only used 7% of Merlot in the blend and 93% of Cabernet-sauvignon and took some time to convince the American critics to see the potential of this wine. A rise in price in 2006 shows a 100% increase in price in 1 year, to nearly reach the $2,000 mark in late 2007. The economic downturn in 2008 slowed the evolution and a slight fall is visible during that year, yet it stayed above the $1,500 line.
If we compare the 2000 vintage to the 1982, we can definitely expect the price to reach the $3,000 mark over the next 10 years. QC
average price in US$ per 75cl Bottle.
graph source: 90pluswine
Azelia Barolo 1999
The colour is of fine deep ruby, even after 10 years. Plenty of Plums on the nose, it shows aromas of cedar and menthol. On the palate, the wine is remarkably complex and develop great flavors of rose, tar and leather. It is a full bodied wine and the tannins have soften to be perfectly integrated with the acidity and the fruits. The finish is medium, yet persistent. A great wine to drink now!
And Sir Winston L S Churchill was a fervent amateur of Champagne and especially the Pol Roger Grande Maison. He was a close friend of the Pol Roger family and during the sad year of his death in 1965, every bottle of the Cuvee White foil sold in the Uk would bare a black line around the label.
19 years later, a cuvee speciale was named after him, Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill 1984, was created representing a long lived, robust and full bodied wine. The warm blue colour of the bottle was a representation of Sir Churchill's uniform that he use to wear during his tenure of the wardenship of the Cinque Ports.
He was known to always take a case in his flight to war zone as both defeat and victory were a good excuse to drink a bottle. He once, took Napoleon's quote : "In defeat I need it, in Victory I deserve it."
In 1990, the morne black band was removed from the White Foil Cuvee to be replace by a blue line which represents the "loyalties to the Senior Service' as a former First Lord of the Admiralty".
"Remember Gentleman, it's not just for France we are fighting for, it's Champagne!"
"I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me."
1988 was at first not an ideal vintage for Botrytis with a mild and wet spring and a dry and warm summer, flowering was quite normal. September was hot and the grapes were only infected by mid october. The top producers decided to wait and harvested in November. By then the grapes were perfect with an oustanding quality and complexity. It will be a great vintage.
Chateau d'Yquem, Sauternes 1988.
The Colour was deep and gold with glimpse of shiny orange. The nose was floral and complex. Multiple aromas of butter, honey, nuts lifted by lemon zest. At first, the onctuous wine develop rich honey suckle and spice. Then the mid palate explode with powerful flavours of white flowers and creme brulee. The acidity is well integrated and balance perfectly with the sweetness. The length is divine and goes on and on...
Very much in its youth, this example of Chateau d'Yquem prove to be near perfection and should evolve beautifully over the next 30 to 40 years. QC